August 23rd, 2013

Squeeze me gently

5 minute read

by Paul Jones


As every child knows, Baa Baa black sheep had three bags full of wool. But if she lived in Monmouthshire and decided she wanted to throw them away, she would now be thwarted under the council’s recently announced plan to allow households only two bags of residual waste per fortnight. I for one am extremely excited about Monmouthshire’s new squeeze policy and think it will have big impact; indeed, it makes me wonder if we might see the sack start to make a comeback.


Squeezes and bulges

Waste restriction or ‘squeeze policies’ are nothing new, although a sack-based policy is unusual. They can involve reducing frequency of collection, reducing the volume of waste that householders can have collected, or both. Nearly two thirds of local authorities have fortnightly waste collections and over the last few years authorities introducing wheeled bins for residual waste have been increasingly opting for smaller sizes. Last year Bristol collected in all its old stock of 240 litre residual bins and replaced them with 180 litre bins, whilst maintaining a fortnightly collection.

Squeeze policies have reliably been found to result in less waste going into the residual waste bin, with much of the material being diverted into the recycling and organics collections, but are not without their critics. Changes tend to be accompanied by public concern that large scale fly tipping will result. However, the limited research into the causes of fly tipping suggests that difficulties in accessing the local tip seem to be a more significant factor than limited bin capacity.

A fairer criticism is that the benefits of squeeze policies may sometimes be overstated. Many district councils that have implemented a squeeze policy have seen improved recycling rates – but part of this may be due to householders taking their extra waste to county controlled civic amenity (CA) sites while other waste may show up as contamination in dry recycling.

Fully commingled recycling, particularly when undertaken in wheeled bins, can be significantly impacted by squeeze polices. Eunomia has recently seen a big increase in the number of authorities seeking help with major contamination problems with their commingled collections.

This may in part be due to MRFs and authorities taking a more realistic approach to the quality of recycling collected by this method after many years of “don’t ask don’t tell”. However it certainly seems that, without control at the point of collection for dry recyclables, the beneficial impact of dramatic squeeze policies on recycling volumes will be undermined by a growth in contamination.


Up to his old Twix

However, there certainly are cases where a squeeze works well. North Somerset, where I live, is a Unitary Authority and as such its 60% recycling rates takes account of all the waste in the area, including material received at CA sites. It is pretty much the highest performing unitary in the country, and its squeeze policy is at the heart of this achievement.

Baa Baa Black sheep pg 8

Are sacks coming back, or is Monmouthshire’s thinking woolly? Picture public domain via Wikimedia Commons

In North Somerset, I’m lucky enough to have a weekly kerbside sort collection that takes in pretty much every conceivable material, including food and spectacles (though I’m not a regular user of the latter facility). My refuse is collected fortnightly in a 180 litre wheeled bin, but even this is far more capacity than I need. So far I have only needed to set it out about once every six months; when I do, it contains about 50% Twix wrappers and 50% miscellaneous multi layered plastic guff.  Including one trip (partly a recreational, I confess) to the CA site, I estimate that I contribute less than 20kgs per annum to North Somerset’s MBT plant, while the average household produces 560kgs of residual waste.

Now, I accept that I’m not representative of the average householder (for one, I eat way more Twixes). I don’t have kids or old people living with me, I eat out a lot and make a lot of choices to avoid producing residual waste: for example, I downgraded from Waitrose premium steaks to its economy range, purely because the packaging is recyclable.

However a quick ‘audit’ (or snoop around) of my neighbours’ wheeled bins prior to collection reveals that I’m not alone in finding that I have more than enough residual capacity. More than half the bins whose lids I lifted were far from full, while those short of space clearly had recyclables in them.


The joy of sacks

So the questions are, how do we squeeze further and how far can we go? It seems to me that when really good recycling services are in place, even 180 litres of capacity per fortnight is over the top for any but the most exceptional household. There are now 140L, 120L and even a highly attractive 80L wheeled bin available on the market. Alternatively, perhaps we could keep the same bins and switch to monthly collections, although that would pose a number of logistical problems.

In Monmouthshire’s case, two 80L sacks give an effective restriction of around 120L a fortnight, roughly the wheeled bin capacity I would envisage bold local authorities starting to offer households as recycling levels increase.  But while bins are a long term investment, sacks make it easy to experiment with changes in the capacity offered to households. A gradual reduction in the size of the sacks issued could allow waste arisings to be squeezed gradually year on year, rather than in dramatic steps. Ultimately, I can’t see why any but the most exceptional household should need to produce more than one sack of residual waste a week.

For local authorities looking to save on disposal and increase recycling, putting a squeeze on residual waste is an attractive option, especially for those with a kerbside sort recycling system.  Monmouthshire’s approach will be worth watching as it develops, especially if sack sizes are decreased over time, as it may point out a way to be bold on capacity without incurring the unfortunate side-effect of increased recycling contamination.  My advice would be: you’re going to keep on squeezing, please do be gentle.


Paul Jones


Paul Jones Senior Technical Specialist



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6 Comments on "Squeeze me gently"

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Paul Jones
Hi Sarah, I think you’re right, it doesn’t matter what receptacle you use, there will always be those who dislike it. It terms of wheeled bins being too large, I think any authority rolling out bins currently has the opportunity to go for small bins. Its harder and more costly to replace current bins with smaller wheeled bins than it is to roll out small bins from scratch. Any conversion from sacks is definitely an opportunity for very small wheeled bins! Flats are tricky, and solutions in the past have often concentrated on trying to make recycling easy, which can… Read more »
Sarah Banks
Thanks for this interesting article Paul. It’s an interesting debate. Bags and bins both come with pros and cons, and somewhere in between I’m convinced there’s a great solution. In Bath our biggest problem with sacks is scavengers (in our case sea gulls) who rip them open and strew litter around. I’ve been part of the animal proof sacks pilot in central Bath (canvas sacks to put black bags in) which is an innovative solution and restricts quantity by capacity, but getting people to use them is the issue, especially where rented holiday apartments are concerned. Removing food waste from… Read more »
paul florentine
This is very thought provoking. In terms of reducing residual capacity obviously much depends on how it is balanced by opportunities to recycle. Many authorities are opting for a 180 litre bin for residual waste on an awc frequency with glass, cans, plastic bottles, paper and light card kerbside. I have done the math (as they say stateside) and an authority that remained on 240 litre bins on a two weekly frequency could possibly look to moving to three weekly collections rather than introduce a wholesale replacement of their bin stock via 180 litre bins. The capacity available is not… Read more »
Paul Jones
Hi Paul, I Agree that three weekly collections with a 240 is very doable. There are a small number of authorities with 140 litre bins collected fortnightly, which is actually closer in volume to a 4 weekly 240 litre collection and perhaps this may fit better into a cycle for areas that have fortnightly garden waste. We have carried out quite a few options appraisals for councils considering (even) lower residual collection frequency. I think the key problems would be AHP waste and the impacts of missing a collection, either from holidays or bad weather, but these issues could be… Read more »
Janet Rawlings

I’ve always felt Monmouthshire’s residual waste had been kept down by their refusal to introduce wheelie bins, of any size. The main complaint I’ve heard from residents is that they can no longer reuse old bags (such as garden compost bags) to put their waste out for collection. It will be interesting to see how the dry recycling contamination rate is affected by the new, grey sacks.

Paul Jones

Hi Janet, yes its certainly the case that the introduction of wheeled bins has often pushed up waste arisings, but in recent times they have been useful in delivering residual squeeze. The contamination is an interesting one and certainly a potential issue.